Genesis 1 Is Ancient Cosmology

gneI was with my wife this morning attending to some matters when I came across my friend’s, Father Dale Brown, Facebook status in regards to his reading “Paul and the Faithfulness of God” by N.T. Wright. His status caught me attention: 

The problem with N.T. Wright’s new book is that he throws out about 1000 different minute things that make you wish that you had a whole book on that bit as well and he spends only a paragraph or two on it. Like how Genesis 1 could have been understood in the ANE world as the construction of a ‘temple.’ How the Temple in Jerusalem was seen as the beginning of that restoration, for in Jewish theology the Temple was a microcosm of all Creation. Consequently, in Christ the Temple, his body, resurrection and those constituted by us through baptism is the realization of the renewed Creation which was lost in the garden but restored when Christ was resurrected in the Garden tomb.”

This caught my attention for many reasons. I’m a fan of N.T. Wright. I’m a theology nerd. I’m Eastern Orthodox. This view held by Wright in regards to Genesis 1 is in fact a deeply Orthodox belief as well! Hence my browsing the status and its comments. While going through the comments someone recommend John Walton’s “The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate“. The book looks amazing, and is already on my wish list. I may in fact get a used copy tonight! We’ll see, but I digress. 

I found a blog online with some thoughts directly from the book that I wish to share here today. Many Orthodox theologians would be or are critical of the historical methods of interpretation, but in regards to Genesis I think it is both a serious mistake to disregard the cultural context as well as contradictory to the Fathers, who wouldn’t take issue with it. This isn’t to say that reading in through the lens of Christ is wrong either. It certainly isn’t! In fact, I think both understandings bring Genesis to a brighter, fuller picture. What Father Dale says above hints at that as well. This historical reading of Genesis doesn’t neglect a theological reading of Genesis by any means, so far as I can tell with what I have read in the book and heard from Kurt Willems in his review of Walton’s book

What stands out to me about Walton’s right on reading is that it gets to the heart of what Father Alexander Schmemann writes about in “For the Life of the World“. Father Alexander, as well as the Orthodox, believe that man was created primarily as priest. I believe in Walton’s reading of Genesis 1 in regards to “Cosmic Temple” that it blends perfectly with the Orthodox understanding of man as priest. The Orthodox would agree with the cosmic temple notions, but that also solidifies our position, as well as Fr. Alex’s, that man’s true fall was “living non-eucharistic lives in a non-eucharistic world”. Meaning if God created the cosmos to be His temple then He created man primarily as priests. And as a priest, he is to take that which God has created and offer it back to God in thanksgiving to God.

I believe the themes run beautifully together here! And it carries through the entire Scripture and is embedded even in St. Paul and the New Testament’s theology, especially their soteriology. I can’t speak to all the book being in agreement with the Orthodox faith having not read it all, but what I have read and heard so far there is a lot of agreement! 

So without further comment enjoy the short excepts from Walton’s book. Hope it makes ya think! 

 

Genesis 1 is Ancient Cosmology

By John H. Walton
Professor of Old Testament
Wheaton College
March 2010

 

The Bible was written for everyone, but specifically to Israel. As a result we have to read all biblical texts, including (and maybe especially) Genesis 1 in its cultural context—as a text that is likely to have a lot more in common with ancient literature than with modern science. This does not result in claims of borrowing or suggestions that Genesis should also be read as “mythology” (however defined), but that ancient perspectives on the world and its origins need to be understood.

Ancient Cosmology is Function-oriented

In the ancient world and in the Bible, something existed not when it had physical properties, but when it had been separated from other things, given a name and a role within an ordered system. This is a functional ontology rather than a material ontology. In this view, when something does not exist, it is lacking role, not lacking matter. Consequently, to create something (cause it to exist) means to give it a function, not material properties.

“Create” (Hebrew Bara’ ) Concerns Functions

The Hebrew word translated “create” should be understood within a functional ontology—i.e., it means to assign a role or function. This is evident through a word study of the usage of the biblical term itself where the direct object of the verb is always a functional entity not a material object. Theologians of the past have concluded that since materials were never mentioned that it must mean manufacture of objects out of nothing. Alternatively, and preferably, it does not mention materials because it does not refer to manufacturing. Bara’ deals with functional origins, not material origins.

Beginning State in Genesis 1 is Non-functional

In Genesis 1:2 the “before” picture, as throughout the ancient Near East, is portrayed in non-functional, non-productive terms (tohu and bohu) in which matter already exists. If this were an account of material origins, it would start with no matter. As an account of functional origins, it starts with no functions.

Days 1-3 in Genesis 1 Establish Functions

In the ancient world, light was not an object, and day 1 does not recount the manufacture of an object. Verses 4-5 do not make sense unless we understand “light” as referring to “a period of light.” If that is what it means in vv. 4-5, then it logically must mean the same in v.3. Thus on day 1 God created a period of light to alternate with a period of darkness, i.e., God created time—a function. On day two, God created weather (described in accordance with their cosmic geography) and on day three he created fecundity/fertility/agriculture. These three functions are referred to again in Gen. 8:22 and are the principle functions that figure in ancient Near Eastern cosmological texts.

Days 4-6 in Genesis 1 Install Functionaries

Days 4-6 involve installing the functionaries that will operate within the spheres of the three functions described in days 1-3. The description continues to be functional (notice on day 4: signs, festivals, days and years—all functional in relation to people). This incidentally solves the age old problem regarding how “light” can be created on day 1 and the sun not until day four. The contradiction only exists if this is an account of material origins. In a functional perspective, time is much more significant than the sun; the former is a function, the latter simply a functionary. Everything is designated “good” indicating that it functions properly in the system (notice later, it is NOT good for man to be alone: functional). The description of people is also in functional terms from the image of God through the blessing. And God created (bara’ ) them MALE AND FEMALE—functional categories.

Divine Rest is in a Temple

In the ancient world, as soon as “rest” is mentioned everyone would have known exactly what sort of text this was: gods rest in temples and temples are built so that gods can rest in them. Rest is not a term of disengagement but a term of engagement, i.e., everything is in place now so the deity can take up his place at the helm in the control room of the cosmos and begin operations. Rest throughout the Bible indicates that everything is stable and secure and life and the cosmos may proceed as they were intended.

The Cosmos Is a Temple

In the ancient world and in the Bible, the cosmos was understood to be a gigantic temple (Isa. 66:1), and temples were designed to be a micro-cosmos (see description of the Garden of Eden and the Temple vision of Ezekiel; there is symbolism in the tabernacle/temple furniture and décor). Genesis 1 is portraying cosmic origins in terms that would be recognized as a temple building account.

The Seven Days of Genesis 1 Relate to the Cosmic Temple Inauguration

If cosmic origins are described here in functional terms and follow the pattern of temple building texts, then the point is made that the cosmic temple is here being made functional. When a temple was built, it became functional not when all of the physical work had been done (building, furniture, priests’ garments) but in an inauguration ceremony that in a variety of texts throughout the ancient world lasted seven days. During those seven days, the functions of the temple were identified, the functionaries installed, the priests commissioned and most importantly that which represented the deity was brought into the center of the sacred space where he took up his rest. Then the temple was functional—it existed. If this is the paradigm in Genesis 1, then the seven days can easily be understood as regular days and the account can be understood as an inauguration of the cosmic temple that initiates the functions by which it operates.

The Seven Days of Genesis 1 Do Not Concern Material Origins

If the seven days refer to the seven days of cosmic temple inauguration, days that concern origins of functions not material, then the seven days and Genesis 1 as a whole have nothing to contribute to the discussion of the age of the earth. This is not to say that God was uninvolved in material origins—it only contends that Genesis 1 is not the story of material origins.

“Functional Cosmic Temple” Offers Face Value Exegesis

The hermeneutical commitment to read the text at face value elevates this interpretation since it makes an attempt to understand the text as the author and audience would have understood it. It does not reduce the text to a symbolic, figurative, theological or literary reading, as is often done in the attempt to correlate the text to modern science. Concordism applies scientific meanings to words and phrases in the text that are modern—that the ancient readers would never have had. Day-age seeks to make room for an old earth. Both of these approaches struggle because they are still trying to get Genesis to operate as an account of material origins for an audience that has a material ontology and cannot think in any other way.

Other Theories of Genesis 1 Either Go Too Far or Not Far Enough

The Framework Hypothesis recognizes a literary structuring that is evident in the text, and the theory here proposed does not deny it. But the theory here goes much further than the framework hypothesis to suggest that our understanding need not be limited to simply a literary structuring. The functions of days 1-3 correlate to the functionaries of days 4-6. Someone who has embraced the Framework Hypothesis would have no problem going the next step and embracing this functional perspective. Many YEC and OEC proponents have built their theories assuming that Genesis 1 is an account of material origins.

The Difference Between Origin Accounts in Science and Scripture is Metaphysical in Nature

The principle factor that differentiates a biblical view of origins from modern scientific view of origins is that the biblical view is characterized by a pervasive teleology: God is the one responsible for creation in every respect. He has a purpose and a goal as he creates with intentionality. The mechanisms that he used to bring the cosmos into material existence are of little consequence as long as they are seen as the tools in his hands. The teleology is evident in and supported by the functional orientation.

God’s Roles as Creator and Sustainer Are Less Different Than We Have Thought

Modern Christianity, trying to survive in a material and naturalistic world, has often adopted a practical deism. When origins are seen only in material terms, creation is a job that is carried out and completed in the distant past and consequently, describing God as Creator becomes only a historical statement characterized by almost total discontinuity with the present. At the other end of the spectrum, process theology runs the risk of getting bogged down in a philosophical and theological morass by positing such a high level of continuity that there is no beginning or end to the narrative of the cosmos. The view presented here sees enough discontinuity that there was a beginning and will be an end, but retains a much stronger sense of continuity through the understanding that as God initially set up the functional cosmos, he is still at the helm and is actively engaged in maintaining order against the threat of disorder (whether the disorder is cosmic, environmental, or human).

Current Debate About Intelligent Design Ultimately Concerns Purpose

Since the proposed model is thoroughly teleological, God’s involvement is absolute and pervasive since his role as Creator is ongoing. Consequently every aspect of creation is the result of intelligent design whether it is irreducibly complex or not, and whether it can be explained in terms of a recognizable process of cause and effect or not. Natural selection could never be viewed as entirely natural, and random mutation is not random. ID protagonists may be able to identify areas where the inadequacies of the reigning paradigm are more clear than others and offer illustrations where no current explanations suffice, but these examples should merely be seen as existing on a spectrum. Perhaps such observations may help identify continuing weaknesses in the reigning Neo-Darwinian paradigm but Intelligent Design protagonists do not at present have an alternative description of material origins to offer.

Scientific Explanations of Origins Can Be Viewed in Light of Purpose, and If So, Are Unobjectionable

If the proposed theory is on target, Genesis 1 does not offer a descriptive model for material origins. In the absence of such a model, Christians would be free to believe whatever descriptive model for origins makes the most sense. The major limitation is that any view eventually has to give God full control of the mechanisms if it claims to be biblical. A biblical view of God’s role as Creator in the world does not require a mutually exclusive dichotomy between “natural” and “supernatural” though the reigning paradigms are built on that dichotomy. In the ancient world (in a functional ontology), the dichotomy was static vs. dynamic. Some aspects of the cosmos were viewed as static and others dynamic, and deity was active (determinatively so) in that which was dynamic. Consequently, it does not matter that there may be perfectly acceptable and definable empirical descriptions and explanations for observed phenomena and aspects of origins. Such would not exclude divine activity because without the natural/supernatural dichotomy, divine activity is not ruled out by empirical explanation. We can affirm with the Psalmist that God “knit me together in my mother’s womb” without denying the premises of embryology. Likewise, those aspects of evolutionary mechanisms that hold up under scrutiny could be theoretically adopted as God’s mechanisms.

What scientific ideas or conclusions is the believer who wants to take the Genesis account seriously obliged to reject? Is there science that is unacceptable in biblical/theological terms? Or is it only the metaphysical implications of some scientists? Is it the Genesis account that serious scientists are compelled to reject? Or only the implications of some traditional interpretations? I propose that it is our misguided interpretations that have brought about a conflict that does not in fact exist.

Resulting Theology in this View of Genesis 1 Is Stronger Not Weaker

The resulting theology, beyond what has been mentioned above, allows a more focused dialogue with our contemporary world. The theology behind a teleological, functionally-oriented cosmological ontology argues precisely the point that must be argued. Evolutionary mechanisms are not the problem; metaphysical naturalism is.

Public Science Education Should Be Neutral Regarding Purpose

While it is true that science cannot help but have metaphysical underpinnings, we can teach empirical science without presuming to dictate metaphysical conclusions. Public education should be free to teach empirical methods without comment on teleology or dysteleology. If Intelligent Design offers legitimate critique of some aspects of the reigning empirical paradigm, it ought to be taken into account at that level. But it should not be used to introduce teleological metaphysics into the science classroom any more than evolutionary theory should be used to introduce dysteleological metaphysics or metaphysical naturalism. Neither is acceptable or necessary in the science classroom focused on empirical methods. But somewhere students should be taught about metaphysical systems and the alternatives that are out there, and how a variety of metaphysical systems could integrate with science. This is not an issue of faith, or of a particular religion, or of biblical teaching; it is simply an issue of a well-rounded education.

Conclusion

Public education should be interested in teaching evolution with all of its warts and problems, and science should be committed to refining and even overhauling or overthrowing any reigning paradigms that are showing weaknesses. This is the nature of scientific inquiry. Having said that, whatever aspects of evolution that continue to provide the best explanation for what we observe should not be objectionable for Christians. Being believers in the Bible does not require us to reject the findings of biological evolution, though neither does it give us reason to promote biological evolution. Biological evolution is not the enemy of the Bible and theology: it is superfluous to the Bible and theology.

 

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The Eucharistic Dimension of Death

Minolta DSCSome more profound insights from Father John Behr’s (Dean of St. Vlad’s Orthodox Theological Seminary) “The Mystery of Christ: Life in Death” (A great review here):

There is clearly a close relationship between the dynamism and the fruitfulness of the Spirit and the action of the Word operative in the processes that lead both to the Eucharist and to the resurrection. It is by receiving the Eucharist, as the wheat and the vine receive the fecundity of the Spirit, that we are prepared, as we also make the fruits into the bread and wine, for the resurrection effected by the Word, at which point, just as the bread and wine receive the Word and so become the Body and Blood of Christ, the Eucharist, so also our bodies will receive immortality and incorruptibility from the Father. As such, death, within the overall economy of God seen in the light of the Passion of Christ, takes on a eucharistic dimension, alongside its educative and limiting function, and the economy as a whole can be described as the Eucharist of God” (page 106).

Yeah, my head hurts to, so I’m off to ponder these magnificent insights! Go buy this book! Truly stretching me and forcing me to think!

The Icon Corner: A Guide to Setting Up Your Own

myiconsA few days ago I shared with you “The Beautiful Place: How to Make Your Own Icons“, and I hope it was a delight for those who sought to make their own in an affordable way. Today I want to share this video of how to proceed with setting up your own icon corner, or Beautiful Place. There aren’t any set rules per se, but there are some ways to arrange certain icons that should be followed. This is not meant to be a strict, legalistic, “you-gotta-do-it-this-way” kind of video! Please don’t take it that way! I made this video a few months ago for a friend interested in how to set up his own icon corner. I recommend some books to check out on iconography and walk through how I have set up our own icon corner.

A fewthings I’m convicted about in regards to having a home altar/icon corner/Beautiful Place:

  1. It should be done so that the icons are the main focus of a room or the first thing guests see in your home. It is done so that our lives revolve around God and prayer.
  2. It should be done as beautifully as possible. You’ll notice in my video how symmetrical my icons are. I have O.C.D. so I’m very particular about certain things like that, but one should seek to arrange the icons in a beautiful manner and not have them all disorganized. The altar is to be a place of order not chaos, so to focus in prayer. You can get creative too. You’ll see in my picture in the blog here that I have arragned the economy of salvation inself into my Beautiful Place. Down the middle I have a icon of the Nativity, then the Crucifixion, then the Resurrection, and finally the Ascension (As an aside, the video will not show this since it is older). I liked the beautiful theological symbolism of this, so I went with it. Be creative!
  3. I’m horrible at this, but the home altar should not be ignored. I’m forgetful of prayer and lazy, so I repent of that, but I make an effort not to neglect my altar. This also means we shouldn’t walk on by the icons without crossing ourselves. We should be aware of the icon corner and of the Saints, Theotokos, and Christ who are with us daily. Stop and cross yourself in front of the icons. They are holy. This space is holy. Treat it as such.

Outside of that I hope this video here will help you in setting up your own Beautiful Place. May the Lord Jesus Christ, our Messiah, bless you and keep you.

Shalom.

The Cross Stands, While the Earth Revolves

crossI’m currently about a 100 pages into Father John Behr’s (Dean of St. Vlad’s Orthodox Theological Seminary) “The Mystery of Christ: Life in Death” (A great review here). I’m enjoying this book immensely and finding it both challenging and enlightening in regards to theological method and hermeneutics. I came across, what is to me, a profound insight, which I simply wanted to share from chapter 2 “For This We Were Created”:

We can only speak of creation as having been brought into being by and for its savior Jesus Christ, and its whole history as having been providentially guided by him, from the moment that he is revealed within its history, at the Passion. Theologically speaking, creation and its history begins with the Passion of Christ and from this ‘once for all’ work looks backwards and forwards to see everything in this light, making everything new. Christian cosmology, elaborated as it must be from the perspective of the Cross, sees the Cross as impregnated in the very structure of creation: stat crux dum volvitur orbis–the Cross stands, while the earth revolves. The power of God revealed in and through the Cross brought creation into being and sustains it in existence” (page 90).

There are many great insights in this book, and I hope to review it or write up some more thoughts on the acorns of wisdom I have gathered up from Father John while reading his book. I can say this: go buy it and read it for yourself! It is worth the few bucks it costs!

The Beautiful Place: How to Make Your Own Icons

iconsIf you are Orthodox and poor, or perhaps not even Orthodox, but someone appreciative of icons, then this video post is for you. If you aren’t familiar with icons I recommend reading my short blog on why Orthodox Christians use them. Nonetheless, the Orthodox family has what we call “The Beautiful Place” in their home. This can be a corner or a wall facing east towards Jerusalem, but it is to be the main focus point of the home once someone enters it. I have come to see the Beautiful Place as the family’s own altar. Of course it is not the same type of altar as in the sanctuary at a parish that the priest uses, but the Orthodox family is the domestic Church. Thus the Beautiful Place is in many ways the husband’s/father’s altar where he is to guide his family spiritual and to present their prayers before God.

Over at the Orthodox Christian Information Center, they have some great advice on icon corners:

The first thing that should be done when an Orthodox Christian family moves into a new apartment or house is to determine which eastern wall or corner can be turned into the icon corner. This should not be a non-conspicuous place where the icons will be hidden from people’s eyes, rather it should be a very prominent spot which all can see. The icon corner should have icons of Christ and the Theotokos as well as icons of the saints for whom the family has particular devotion. Many times an Orthodox family chooses a particular saint to whom they wish to dedicate their family church, and place it under his or her protection. The icons in the icon corner of a family church dedicated to a saint will, of course, have an icon of the saint together with those of Christ and the Theotokos.

The icon corner will either have a small table or a shelf upon which may be placed prayer books, a hand censer, a bottle of holy water, a blessing-cross, the candles that the husband and wife held at their wedding, holy oil, palm branches and sometimes other religious objects. In front of the icons an oil lamp should perpetually burn. Some families burn wax votive candles before the icons; however, the tradition is to burn olive oil. Electric lights are not appropriate for use as the light to burn before icons. The traditional oil lamps require an amount of attention which electricity does not, thereby directing our physical services and thoughts to God several times a day when we are required to trim the wick and refill the lamp with oil.”

I hope that this video will guide you on how to make your own icons in a very affordable way. I know that icons are very expensive and cost a lot of money, but there are ways to make icons for private use (NOTE: these are not for sale or re-sale; icons are often made by artists and that is how they make money. I don’t encourage selling them)! This is an easy, affordable way to make a home altar for your family to worship and prayer together.

The link to the video can be found here. Facebook states that anyone with or without Facebook should be able to view the video. Please comment and let me know if you have trouble with it.

Blessings.

Cosmic Sky Dad

godI had a friend tell me this week that he just can’t wrap his mind around the idea of a “Cosmic Sky Dad” and what not. He said, “It’s hard for me to grasp a Big Cosmic Sky Dad..even if He is a loving Cosmic Sky Dad that one day created everything so that it would worship or be in union with Him or Her just seems really bizarre.”

I did explain to my good friend, who is a very dear friend with sincere intentions and honest questions, that that is a deeply Secular view of God and in all honesty a caricature of God and of the Christian understanding of God. Often we all approach the subject of theology proper (the doctrine of God) with clouded lens. Myself included. We have horribly informed presuppositions about God do we not? Scripture, Tradition, and the Church has never nor would they ever speak of God as being some sort of Cosmic Sky Dad.

I don’t know of any religious faith, outside of Secularism, nor my own especial, that would say this of God.

It’s like the story a friend told me of a 7 year old girl asking her atheist father about God, to which he responds, “Some people believe there’s an invisible person in the sky that knows everything and sometimes grants wishes if they ask him.” Of course this particular 7 year old was full of wisdom and skeptical because no one really believes that.

That is not at all what any serious Christian believes, nor any serious theist, would believe of God. That is more what Secularism believes in this country. Secularism would very easily believe in said Cosmic Sky Dad, but I digress.

My friend continued the dialogue this morning after reading my responses. He asked, “If I don’t use terms like Cosmic Sky Dad and such what would you call the centrality of God (The need to be worshiped? Jesus, etc.?)?” He went on, “Theology, to me seems to be answers to questions about a religion, a sort of fence or moat around a castle.”

I believe my friend posted a great question! One that made me think! How do we talk about God? What do we mean when we talk about Him? Who is He? What is He?

How would you answer that question. This is my response, but I have of course edited it out to be a little more detailed for the purpose of the blog, but it is the best I could do:

Theology is the study of God. That is what the Greek root words mean. Theology, in general, but Christianity especially, just doesn’t answer a question about a religion. A religion is a set of beliefs about metaphysics, anthropology, teleology, eschatology, so on and forth. I get the feeling you may be seeing it as most Americans are, not saying you are, just a suspicion, that you are having a Secular view of it that states “religion deals with the big man in the sky per the study of theology” but this is flawed especially in regards to the deeply incarnational theology of Christianity in general, but Orthodoxy especially.

If I don’t use terms like Cosmic Sky Dad and such what would you call the centrality of God? (The need to be worshiped? Jesus, etc.?)?”

For anyone asking along with my friend this is where some deep engagement with Orthodoxy in the form of study and participation would deeply do one well. According to what I have come across in my short time of being Orthodox, the Church Fathers speak of God as person [Disclaimer: not to be confused with theistic personalism]. Not person how we are person, but person in His existence. Of course He is the Supreme Being. He is what He is. On our icons of Christ you will see Hebrew letters or sometimes Greek, one on the left, top of his head, and on the right. that mean, “I am” essentially. David Hart writes:

To speak of ‘God’ properly … is to speak of the one infinite ground of all that is: eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, uncreated, uncaused, perfectly transcendent of all things and for that very reason absolutely immanent to all things. God so understood is neither some particular thing posed over against the created universe, in addition to it, nor is he the universe itself. He is not a being, at least not in the way that a tree, a clock, or a god is; he is not one more object in the inventory of things that are. He is the infinite wellspring of all that is, in whom all things live and move and have their being. He may be said to be ‘beyond being,’ if by ‘being’ one means the totality of finite things, but also may be called ‘being itself,’ in that he is the inexhaustible source of all reality, the absolute upon which the contingent is always utterly dependent, the unity underlying all things.”

He is!

That is God in Christianity. He is Reality itself. That which is Real. the Numinous, the Mystery.

Just this morning I discovered some blogs by a priest friend that he had just written. They are reviewing David Hart’s (Orthodox philosopher) book “The Experience of God“. In it Hart says, “God is not only the ultimate reality that the intellect and the will seek, but is also the primordial reality with which all of us are always engaged in every moment of existence and consciousness, apart from which we have no experience of anything whatsoever” (p. 10). What follows is an excerpt from Fr. Al’s writing, but he is quoting Hart’s book here as well:

God is ‘the one infinite source of all that is: eternal, omniscient, omnipotent, omnipresent, uncreated, uncaused, perfectly transcendent of all things and for that very reason absolutely immanent to all things’ (p. 30). He is not an inhabitant of the material world or any spiritual dimension. He is not posed over against the universe, nor is he the universe itself. He may be described as beyond being, if by ‘being’ we understand the totality of all created beings. He may be described as being, if by ‘being’ we wish to signify God as ‘the inexhaustible source of all reality, the absolute upon which the contingent is always utterly dependent, the unity and simplicity that underlies and sustains the diversity of finite and composite things. Infinite being, infinite consciousness, infinite bliss, from whom we are, by whom we know and are known, and in whom we find our only true consummation’ (p. 30).

The true and living God must therefore be clearly distinguished from the various gods with whom humanity has always dealt throughout history. The gods, if any exist, do not transcend nature; they belong to nature. ‘They exist in space and time,’ explains Hart, ‘each of them is a distinct being rather than “being itself,” and it is they who are dependent upon the universe for their existence rather than the reverse. Of such gods there may be an endless diversity, while of God there can be only one. Or, better, God is not merely one, in a way that a finite object might be merely singular or unique, but is oneness as such, the one act of being and unity by which any finite things exists and by which all things exist together. He is one in the sense that being itself is one, the infinite is one, the source of everything is one’ (p. 31).”

So I hope that is at least a beginners look at personhood, the Person of God, theology proper. It really isn’t even a beginner’s look, but a humble attempt to sincerely answer my friend’s questions. I’m not a theologian, pastor, nor a priest. I highly recommend one take my blog at face value and look further at better, brighter sources. Christianity created the concept of personhood. God is person! Again, this is where 3 things need to occur if you’re reading this and you have the same questions and concerns my friend does:

  1. Engagement with Orthodox theology per study and reading with a teacher if possible,
  2. Engagment with Orthodox worship per participation,
  3. Engagement with an Orthodox priest for I am not qualified to answer many of these questions and can only do so limited by my own ignorance. I’d wish better for you than my wimpy little answers and regurgitation of others smartness.

I’d really like to help anyone with these questions the best I can though, so I hope this does. I’d recommend also checking out Father Stephen’s blog on this matter of speaking about God.

I hope to further this notion of theology proper in another blog as sort of a review of Michael Gorman’s “Inhabiting the Cruciform God,” which I just finished reading. In the book, Dr. Gorman makes the case that Philippians 2:6-11 is St. Paul’s master story and a revolutionary theology proper. In these verses we can see a grand story and an even grander theology proper. I will not elaborate on that any further, but merely leave you with these Scriptures as an answer to my friend’s question and something for you to ponder until another day. If you have questions about who God is and what He is please read these and contemplate upon them. This is Dr. Gorman’s translation of Phil. 2:6-11:

Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross.  Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

May God bless us all in our journey to find Him and know Him. May we be guided always by the Light of the Messiah, Jesus Christ, to the His truth and love.

Blessings.

St. John of Damascus On Hell

lake-of-fire-150x150St. John of Damascus On Hell

by John Sanidopoulos

Below are some very characteristic and very important passages from Saint John of Damascus on the subject of Hell:

1. Hell is not God’s punishment, but it is a state of receptivity. It appears that Hell and Paradise as “places” do not exist. There is only God, who is present in all places (omnipresent).

 

on hell 1
“And so we know, that God does not punish anyone in the future, but everyone makes themselves receptive to share in God. And so to share in God is a delight, while not sharing in Him is hell.” (“Against the Manicheans”, PG 94:1545D-1548A)
2. Hell exists not because the damned are overdue, but because the damned remain unchangeable in their desire for sin. And again we see that only the omnipresent God will exist in the future age because, as he says, the object desired by sinners will not exist. What will exist is only what will be desired by the righteous, that is, God.
on hell 2
“… after death, there is no means for repentance, not because God does not accept repentance – He cannot deny Himself nor lose His compassion – but the soul does not change anymore … people after death are unchangeable, so that on the one hand the righteous desire God and always have Him to rejoice in, while sinners desire sin though they do not have the material means to sin … they are punished without any consolation. For what is hell but the deprivation of that which is exceedingly desired by someone? Therefore, according to the analogy of desire, whoever desires God rejoices and whoever desires sin is punished.” (“Against the Manicheans”, PG 94:1573??)
Here we observe the following: since God accepts repentance, this means that there are those who are damned, because the sinner does not express repentance. So, their soul freely and definitively chooses sin. Illustrative of the above is the following:
on h ell 3
“God forever supplies good things even to the devil, but he does not want to receive it.” (“Against the Manicheans”, PG 94:1569B)
The above passage continues:
on hell 4
“God forever supplies good things even to the devil, but he does not want to receive it. And in eternity God supplies good things to all because He is the source of good things gushing forth goodness to all, while everyone makes themselves receptive, and they share in the good … those who do not have habitual pleasures and suffer without being healed, without God making hell, but because we lay out hell for ourselves, and indeed nor did God make death, but we ourselves caused this for us.”

So we can say that the exact Orthodox doctrine teaches that:

In the Eternal Kingdom there are not separate places, but states of sharing in and being receptive to God. So Hell and Paradise are names of states experienced and not “places”.

In the Eternal Kingdom only God exists, whose light some will experience as Paradise and others as Hell.

Hell and Paradise will be experienced not because God condemns or rewards people, but because they freely chose the state they will be in. Indeed, proof of Hell being a free choice is that God accepts repentance, but there is no expression of repentance for God to accept them because the person “does not want it”.

 

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